Breitbart the Honorable

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Like a lot of the media, Mona Charen didn't learn the lesson Andrew Breitbart taught everyone.

It's not only about bias. It's about honor.

Last week Charen was asked to do an interview on NBC. As she noted soon after, the interview was edited in a way that misrepresented her views. Yes, journalists are all liberals. But more importantly, too many of them are dishonorable people.

The concept of honor is almost lost among the liberal elite of America, but most people in the country still understand the concepts of honor and fair play. They follow basic rules: don't make stuff up about people, or even portray them in an inaccurate way, which can amount to the same thing. Be honest about yourself, your motivations, your biases. You can have as many opinions as you want and they can even be extreme. But just play fair.

I think that was Andrew Breitbart's main beef -- that journalists have no honesty and therefore no honor.

It's why he fumed and raged like Achilles, whom he was compared to. To him the media's lies, creation of false narratives (conservative are taking your contraception!), and arrogance (what rapes at Occupy Wall Inc?) were insults to the honor of honest people. That is a deep charge that involves the soul and eternal things. It's much more serious than just calling someone a liberal.

I found it interesting that David Weigel, a writer for the liberal website Slate, remembered Breitbart by recalling the time that he, Weigel, got caught posting anti-conservative things on the JournoList, a listserv that was made up of liberal journalists and academics and attempted to affect media coverage to Barack Obama's favor. Breitbart went wild with the news, and urged Weigel -- and other journalists -- to simply come out and declare their biases.

Weigel then quotes Breitbart: "My mission isn't to quash debate. It's to show that the mainstream media aren't mainstream, that their feigned objectivity isn't objective, and that open, rigorous debate is a positive good in our society. Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce."

Exactly. Declare your bias. Then act with honor. It once made for better journalism.

It's why Rolling Stone magazine, in the days of Hunter Thompson and Abbie Hoffman, produced such devastating and award-winning coverage of the disaster at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont -- despite the fact that Rolling Stone readers were hippies. It's why Hunter Thompson could get along with Pat Buchanan while his sad progeny, Matt Taibbi, is so crippled with left-wing rage he rejoiced in Breitbart's death.

David Weigel claims that Breitbart "lost his culture war," but dying in battle is more honorable than doing what Weigel and most journalists do, which is live a lie about their beliefs and presume to judge the rest of us.

I was in my thirties when I began to learn that most liberal journalist are not honorable people. It was 1997, and a friend of mine, Cathy Alter, had a piece completely rewritten by an editor to the point where it meant the opposite of what her intent was. The editor who did the hit was Erik Wemple. Wemple now preaches about media ethics in the pages of the Washington Post (while not divulging what his political beliefs -- liberal -- are), but in 1997 he was an editor at the Washington City Paper, where Alter's piece ran.

I myself had written several article for the City Paper in the early 1990s. The paper, like a lot of "alternative" weeklies, is kind a farm team for the mainstream media. It's writers and editors go on to The Washington Post, New York Times, and other big media.

I had become friends with Cathy Alter after she interviewed me for an article in 1996 that appeared in the City Paper. Shortly after, she told me a story of hers had been altered by an editor there. The article in question, "Voyeur Eyes Only," was about a woman named Jennifer Ringley, who had become a sensation by broadcasting her private life over the internet -- a scandal in the pre-YouTube days.

Cathy Alter is now a successful book author who has been on the Today show, but at the time she was a freelancer. She met Ringley and liked her, and wrote a favorable profile. This, according to Wemple, was a major violation. The City Paper had what it called its "freak of the week," a person who served as a pinata for the editors and readers. So Wemple altered the copy. Alter was outraged, and told Wemple, to no avail.

I spoke to Alter recently, and she still remembers watching her copy become unrecognizable. She recalls that Wemple was insistent on portraying Ringley, the freak of the week, as fat. "He kept saying 'I was a fat kid and got teased, she'll get over it,' Alter says. The piece refers to Ringley as "a chunky lover of Pooh" -- as in Winnie-the-Pooh. "I definitely did not write that," Alter says.

After meeting Alter in 1996, I began to notice that the City Paper was getting letters, and lots of them, from profile subjects claiming that they had been misquoted and misrepresented. Of course, every journalist will get a few of these in their life. But this was a steady stream.

On Sept. 19, 1997, the City Paper ran a story by Jason Cherkis, who now writes anti-conservative articles for the Huffington Post, entitled "Congressional High: Killing Time on Capitol Hill." The piece told the story of high school interns who worked on Capitol Hill. Two of the interns profiled, Curtis Banks and Rodney Bunn, wrote a letter claiming that quotes had been fabricated.

It seemed like a month would not go by without a similar letter of complaint to the paper. Examples here and
here and here.

Perhaps the most damning was from Barbara Rice, an attorney, who wrote:

[The writer] pestered me to answer questions about my divorce, asked if I had sex with my boyfriend, and used profanities -- all in an apparent effort to have me say or do something inappropriate in response. When I didn't, he simply fabricated a quote to get back at me for complaining for his bad behavior towards me and discredit me if I were ever to say a word about what he did.

Even a famous musician (at least in D.C.) got involved. In 1999, a City Paper writer profiled the popular band Thievery Corporation. The writer referred to the group as "jet-setters." When that quote was used again by a different City Paper writer in June 2011, one of the band members, Eric Hilton, claimed that he had been badgered into providing that quote and he didn't like seeing it reused. Hilton wrote in the comments section: "11 years ago I was interviewed by [a] 20-something 'journalist' [from the City Paper]. At one point in his informal interview, he kept emphatically stating, ‘you guys are jet-setters, aren't you.' He must have said it 5 times. To humor him, I responded, ‘Ok Jason, we are jet-setters.' Then, he prints the quote ‘We are jet-setters' as if it came from me unsolicited. That is serious BS."

Yep. That's how the media rolls. Write the story in your head before you interview a soul, then make it come out the way you want it.

Mona Charen had to learn that. Too bad Andrew wasn't around to warn her.

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